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The arts continue to be totally invisible at ZITF

THE Zimbabwe International Trade Fair has come and gone. As usual it brought with it the normal buzz associated with the biggest business showcase in the country. Without a doubt the Trade Fair is one of the very rare occasions when the city of Bulawayo gets to host businesspeople from other African countries and beyond and through various products on display many Zimbabweans get to interface with different cultures of the world. In some sense the fair is actually a window into Zimbabwe and the outside world.

I like the Trade Fair because it is probably one of the very few occasions when the usually sleepy city of Bulawayo comes alive.

During this time the streets of Bulawayo don’t go to sleep after 7pm.

Under very difficult times the Trade Fair happened once again. I went to the fair and could not help but marvel at how the fair continues to survive under these difficult economic times. Remember Bulawayo’s industry is almost at a standstill. Factories have given way to churches. But several Bulawayo companies stood with others from other cities and other countries, all hoping, and hopeful for business.

As usual I went around in search of “our stand” under the ministry. The arts now fall under the Ministry of Rural Development, Preservation and Promotion of National Culture and Heritage. I hope I got the name right. And to be honest there are too many words in that ministry and consequently the arts are getting lost in all those words.

As suspected there was no stand under “arts and culture.” It was only later that I stumbled upon the National Art Gallery stand. However, the National Art Gallery was on their own, telling their own story to the visitors.

What the arts need is a stand organised by the ministry to be there and tell the sector’s story. When we say the arts need a stand we are not talking about a stand to just sell art products — we are talking about a stand that will try to connect arts and culture to business.

Business has a lot of misconceptions about the arts and this misconception can only be dealt with at a higher level. I believe the Trade Fair offers us that opportunity.

I strongly believe that the ministry must be there to provide leadership and vision to the arts. The absence of the arts at the Trade Fair is very worrying.

Are the arts in the right ministry, and in safe hands? One wonders. Since Arts and Culture were moved from Sports and Recreation to Rural Development, the sector is not really sure about anything.

Almost two years after these development artistes are yet to meet their minister and hear, from his very own mouth, what his ministry’s plans on arts and culture are? As I write the majority of us are just lost.

During Trade Fair, the National Art Gallery in conjunction with Leaders for Africa held a visual arts exhibition to celebrate 36 years of Zimbabwe’s independence. The biggest surprise was that this important event was officiated by the Minister of Sports and Recreation, and not by the minister responsible for arts and culture.

In defence the minister and his ministry might say he was not invited by the organisers. To us on the ground it’s another story. One wonders whether removing arts and culture from Sports and Recreation was a good idea after all.

One thing for sure, the arts are fragmented. They are all over the place, and this is not good for the proper growth of the sector.

In the past the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair (ZITF) used to clash with the Harare International Festival of Arts (Hifa).

Not anymore! This year these two important events happened in different weeks. This is indeed a good move that has to be applauded. It makes good business sense to have the two events happening at different times.

In the same vein let me congratulate Hifa for coming back. Last year the festival took a breather, for obvious reasons, and bounced back with a bang. Long live Hifa and the arts!


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